It takes confidence and skills to “drive the boat.” Here’s how to become the captain at your cottage.  

by Karen Phillips  

Since the early ‘90s, we’ve had a water-access cottage on Georgian Bay. In doing so, I had to drive the boat. After all, that was the only way to get to and from the cottage.  

Full disclosure: I love boating and have been exposed to cottaging and boating on Georgian Bay since I was a girl. Having said this, I understand that accessing your cottage by boat is a new adventure for many cottagers – and I totally respect the steep learning curve required to embrace water-access cottaging and “driving the boat.” 

Given our extensive understanding of this type of cottaging, we have provided our professional service to many cottage buyers over the years, assisting them to purchase properties on both inland lakes in the Parry Sound-Muskoka district, as well as on Georgian Bay. A portion of these properties have been “water access” (otherwise known as “boat access”) only. Some of these buyers were our friends, and some of them have become neighbours and friends.  

I share this because I have observed an interesting phenomenon over the years: there’s apprehension, particularly from women, about boating to the cottage. Research backs this up. While there’s been few studies done on gender disparity in recreational boating, men outnumber women by a whopping seven to one when it comes to registered boat ownership, according to market research firm Info-Link.  

When I drop by in the early days of cottage ownership, they often comment how they wish they could drive the boat; how they are planning on learning to drive the boat; how they are nervous, scared and intimidated by the boat; but mostly, how frustrated they are that they can’t drive the boat. Most of these fine women are very accomplished and independent in their “city lives,” but feel a sense of dependency when it comes to accessing their cottage. They literally don’t go if there isn’t someone there to drive the boat. How exasperating for them!  

It doesn’t take long before this changes for most of these women. Now, I watch them pass by on their Sea-Doos, WaveRunners, and in their boats on their way to a local yoga class. They drive up to our dock, jump out, tie up, and pop-in for an afternoon visit.  

Acquiring the skills to drive the boat makes the cottage experience much richer and community connections much deeper. Regardless of your gender, if you’re ready to become the captain at your cottage, here’s how to do it:  


  1. Enrol in the Pleasure Craft Operator online course. Study online, pass the online exam, receive your Pleasure Craft Operator card. 
  2. Have a friend or your partner mentor you and orient you to the different aspects of the boat.  
  3. Learn the safety features of the boat and know what safety equipment is on-board. 
  4. Look at a marine map and/or GPS and trace out your route from the marina to the cottage.  
  5. Learn how to tie up the boat to the dock. Practise this!  
  6. Become comfortable with the boat before it even leaves the dock!  

The Hands-on Part: Driving the Boat 

  1. Ask your mentor to help you with the hands-on process.  
  2. Choose a calm day and approach your first time slowly and methodically. TIP: NEUTRAL IS YOUR FRIEND! 
  3. Learn to drive first, dock second. You untie the boat and have your mentor leave the dock and take a turn driving the boat in the open waterway. Drive slowly so that you are 
  4. comfortable. Take the same route each time until you are comfortable. Have your mentor dock the boat, and you tie it up.  
  5. Do this each time to you go to and from the marina to the cottage or vice versa, until you’re comfortable with driving the entire route.  
  6. Tackle docking next. I have a “point and shoot” approach (Gary isn’t thrilled with this, lol).  Suffice it to say that docking is my least favourite part of boating, but I can do it! I have to admit that I’ll abdicate to my husband or daughter, if I can, but I can certainly hold my own when and if I have to.  
  7. Practise, practise, practise. And when you are ready, take the boat out on your own to visit 
  8. a friend nearby. Get some moral support and your confidence will be boosted tremendously.   
  9. Stay calm, go slow, be kind to yourself. Perfection is not required!  

To those ladies that I’ve watched and befriended over the years (you know who you are), I AM SO PROUD OF YOU! For those who are still standing on the dock looking at the boat ominously in the water – you can do it. After all, this is certainly not the first challenge that life has presented to you. Take it step-by-step and when you do learn to drive the boat on your own, a whole new world of cottaging will open up to you!  

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